It's Spring, which always finds me reminiscing about college days. It's probably the Frisbees, which have a certain elegance in flight. I used to watch the liberal arts students frolicking on the lawn while I was plowing through my homework.
I wonder if the old joke about the difference between liberal arts and science/engineering is making the rounds in the halls of engineering schools around the world:
Q: What's the difference between exams given in liberal arts and engineering tests?
A: In engineering tests, the questions change but the answers remain the same. In liberal arts, the questions are the same every semester but the answers change.
Or this one about the rivalry between two engineering disciplines:
Q: Why is mechanical engineering a healthier choice than electrical engineering?
A: Because you can always drop a hot pipe.
(My brother is still a practicing ME. I'm a lapsed EE, although my wife insists I still “think like an engineer.” I'm not exactly sure what this means — it doesn't always sound like a compliment.)
And since this is a Planet Analog blog, I would be held accountable if I did not try out at least one joke at the expense of software engineers:
If hardware engineers designed circuits like software engineers write code, civilization would collapse at the first lightning strike. (I don't remember the exact wording of that joke, by the way.)
Which brings us to:
Q: Why are “blonde” jokes short?
A: So engineers can remember them.
We can't leave marketing out of this.
Q: How many engineers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: None. They just casually mention to marketing that the dead bulb is a feature.
There used to be a joke that started: “If automobiles had operating systems…”
Haven't heard that one is quite a while, though.
More than a few of our favorite jokes are failing the reality test. Some answers in engineering exams do change as technology advances. Even in science — more “absolute” in some people's eyes — answers change (although not generally on a semester by semester basis). That's why, when we're careful, we talk in terms of scientific theories and experimental data and leave “facts” to the lawyers.
Mathematics? Pi keeps changing, although not by much. (As of 2011, the accurate decimal representation of π reached more than 1013 digits.)
The nature of jokes keeps changing as well. Today, we have a surfeit of inside jokes that you can justifiably find funny only if you know something most people don't know. This is a secondary effect of the Rise of the Nerd, I think.
One thing about jokes that does not seem to change very much is that they always have the motive of belittling or humiliating another person or group.
So when engineers tell jokes about other disciplines inside or outside of engineering, they're trying to assert a presumed superiority that seems to have been usurped. This may be because the contributions engineers make to society are so greatly underappreciated. Or, it could be that the target of the joke is being pompous and needs to be taken down a notch.
Telling a joke about yourself can be a way of gaining the trust and respect of others because on one hand, you're showing some vulnerability, and on the other, you're showing self-confidence.
So let's keep telling and creating jokes. Consider the alternative: Being humorless.